Ali Naseer afghan ecb-1704115006260
UAE all-rounder Ali Naseer celebrates with Aryan Lakra and Aayan Afzal Khan during the second Twenty20 against Afghanistan on Sunday.

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Dubai: "Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning," were the words of Benjamin Franklin, the founding father of the United States.

The UAE cricket team have been progressing and marching ahead with amazing regularity to beat their rivals. The latest is the victory in the second Twenty20 international against a high-flying Afghanistan team at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on the eve of the New Year.

UAE skipper Mohammad Waseem and opener Aryan Lakra hit half-centuries to set the foundation for an impressive 166 for seven on a wicket that had a fair amount of green on the pitch. Afghanistan, who shocked the world with their giant-killing act in the recently concluded 50-over World Cup by defeating England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, fell short of the target, conceding a 11-run win to the hosts. Skipper Waseem in the process became the first player to hit 100 international sixes in a year.

Most sixes in a year
101 - Muhammad Waseem (2023)
80 - Rohit Sharma (2023)
78 - Rohit Sharma🇮 (2019)
74 - Rohit Sharma🇮 (2018)
74 - Suryakumar Yadav🇮(2022)
65 - Rohit Sharma🇮 (2017).
- Source ECB

The hosts lost the first match by 72 runs and the final Twenty20 of the three-match series will be held at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Tuesday.

The chief architect of UAE’s success was young all-rounder Ali Naseer, who grabbed four wickets including the prized wickets of openers Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran. Left-arm pacer Muhammad Jawadullah also bagged four wickets while Junaid Siddique and Akif Raja claimed one each.

Muhammad Waseem ecb-1704115008255
UAE skipper Muhammad Waseem celebrates after reaching his half-century against Afghanistan at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Image Credit: Source: ECB X

Economical spell

“The 160-odd runs were actually pretty good for that wicket. The ball was like moving around quite a bit and there was some bounce in the wicket as well because there was a bit of grass left. So as a bowling team, we were confident of defending the total because all of us played with these players in franchise leagues. So we knew where to bowl to each specific player and luckily it all paid off,” said Naseer, who was adjudged the player of the match after finishing with an economical figures of 4 for 24 in four overs.

“Playing in the ILT20 helped me quite a bit because over there I was sharing the dressing room with all the big players and the experienced players as well. That taught me a lot on how to handle pressure and how to play with the big boys. Then playing Afghanistan, it just felt like it like any other match. Not just me all the boys are confident and performing well.”

The DP World International League Twenty20, the UAE’s own franchise league and the region’s biggest, has included 24 top UAE players among the six teams. Ali Naseer had played for the Desert Vipers that included some top names like Wanindu Hasaranga, Tom Curran and Colin Munro in the bowling unit.

Muhammad Jawadullah UAE ECB-1704115010757
UAE left-arm pacer Muhammad Jawadullah claimed four wickets against Afghanistan. Image Credit: Source: ECB X

That experience immediately bore fruits with several of the UAE players performing well at the international stage, immediately after the conclusion of the tournament.

UAE began 2023 with a win over Afghanistan in February, which was a catalyst for the team to go on to beat the West Indies and New Zealand. The confidence rubbed on to some of the players in the squad to guide the hosts into the final of the Under-19 Asia Cup last month.

Young and energitic squad

“Of late, we’ve been doing pretty well in the bilateral series. We beat New Zealand in 2020, but also beat Afghanistan last year, and then we beat them yesterday as well. I think our team will take inspiration from these victories and try to win against other Tests-playing and other teams in the future and win some trophies and qualify for World Cups,” the all-rounder added.

The current UAE team has many players from the age of 19-23, which makes this win against the Afghanistan team even more creditable. The energy among the young team is very high but still the hunger to learn is burning bright.

“The biggest learning from this game would be to bat and bowl under pressure. The stadium had many Afghanistan fans, who have come to watch their almost full-strength team, barring Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman. There are a few IPL players, like full-time professionals. So executing your skills under pressure is one of the biggest learning I’ve got from this game,” Ali Naseer added.

Impressive shows

At the age of 19, Ali Naseer has contiuned to impress with his match-winning performances since his debut against the West Indies in Sharjah in June last year, starting with a half-century in his debut. In nine ODIs, Naseer has 205 runs and claimed 10 wickets, while in the Twenty20 format, he has 24 wickets and 194 runs in 18 matches.

“I like to be more composed while batting, picking the right balls to hit and not try to play big shots off every ball and in bowling I’ll try and work on my death bowling and execute my yorkers and slower balls a lot better. My goal for this year will be to firstly focus on the ILT20, which starts in 19 days. So that’s my main focus, trying to perform well there,” he concluded.